3 Recent COVID-Crisis EventsThat You and I Could Not Make Up
We are living in unbelievable times
The day-to-day experience of many of us is unrecognizable from that of six weeks ago. Every morning we awake to news that beggars belief: just this morning, for example, the number of jobless claims in the U.S. has reached 22 million — in the past month.
Just strolling through your town’s business district — assuming you’re lucky enough to be able to do so, and I hope I don’t have to remind you to wear your mask when you do — is an exercise in surreality, with normally bustling shops and restaurants empty and locked up tight, the faded closure announcements taped to their doors fluttering in the wake of the very occasional passing car.
With the extraordinary becoming the ordinary, it’s difficult to summon surprise at anything right now. But here are three headlines from the past week that nevertheless managed to make my jaw drop. To reassure ourselves that we haven’t grown utterly benumbed by the COVID crisis, let’s review them together.
1. The reason your stimulus check was delayed by several days
If you qualified for your $1200-or-whatever payment, you should have received it by now — certainly, if you have direct deposit, and probably, if it’s being mailed to you (a good reason to watch your mailbox carefully). But you might have gotten it sooner, and here’s why.
When I saw this headline in a Google News search on April 14, I thought it had to be a parody:
Maybe it was something from The Onion? But no, it was Newsweek, and the same story was reported by other major news outlets. Apparently I’m not the only one who found this too outlandish to give credence, since it was fact-checked by Snopes.com and deemed true.
A president’s name has never before appeared on an IRS check, so chalk up another first for The Current Occupant, along with governing by tweet and . . . never mind, I can’t begin to keep up with his never-ending demolishing of norms.
And this from the man who has yet to release his tax returns.
2. Trump halted funding to the WHO. In the middle of a pandemic.
He’s been sniping at the U.N.’s World Health Organization for weeks, trying to deflect blame on the WHO for what he called its bungled response to the coronavirus threat. But on April 14 he carried through on his threat to pull the U.S.’s share of its funding. As Politico reported on April 14:
The U.S. contributes more than any other country to WHO, at more than $400 million per year. Cutting off funds to the group, which has a $4.8 billion annual budget, will be a major blow to the organization as it conducts vaccine trials, distributes test kits and advises governments around the world.
Perhaps you, like me, are befuddled at how such a move makes you and me and the rest of humanity safer from a virus that is besieging the entire world. Because it doesn’t. It’s a naked attempt to deflect blame, just like repeatedly using the term “Chinese virus.”
Luckily, Bill and Melinda Gates are chipping an extra $150 million in to help cover the gap left by Trump’s 60-day withdrawal from the WHO, after Politico and other outlets reported that Mr. Gates had this to say:
“Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds,” Gates wrote on Twitter early Wednesday morning. “Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
Maybe we could hold a bake sale and send the proceeds to the WHO. A little tough to do while we’re all sheltering in place, but maybe we can figure out curbside service.
And lest you think I’m only Trump-bashing:
3. The Supremes released one of their greatest hits
Not those Supremes, the U.S. Supreme Court. And this hit was aimed straight at voting, especially voting safely in a pandemic. I’ve written before about the well-documented Republican fondness for restricting Americans’ most basic right and responsibility as citizens of a democracy:
What If You Lost the Right to Vote?
It’s happening to U.S. citizens. You can do something about it.
In Wisconsin’s April 7 primary election there were many state voters who requested absentee ballots but who either never received them, or received them too late to be able to get them postmarked by the day of the election. An April 8 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
Three tubs of them (ballots)were discovered in a mail processing center and the Milwaukee Election Commission called for an investigation into a separate set of undelivered ballots . . . And Fox Point officials said 100 or more ballots a day were returned to the village as undelivered in the week leading up to the election.
You’ve no doubt seen the photos of stalwart Wisconsinites standing in blocks-long, socially-distanced lines, wearing masks and gloves and waiting, in some cases, for hours in order to cast their votes, while risking exposure to the coronavirus.
Personally, I can’t imagine a better reason to make voting by mail more accessible than guarding public health during a pandemic. Wisconsin Democrats, who felt the same way, brought the issue before a federal court. They argued that the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots should be extended by six days, to April 13 to allow those votes to be received and counted. A federal court agreed, at which point the issue got moved up to the Supreme Court, who ruled on the matter on April 6, one day before the election.
In a 5 to 4 decision, with all of the conservative justices in favor, the Supremes overturned the prior federal court decision, stating in their majority opinion, “Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters — not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters — for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election . . .”
So all of those voters whose ballots never got to them, or got to them too late to be returned on time, either had to choose between risking their health or being effectively disenfranchised. Sadly, that’s not the part that beggars belief.
Here’s the thing: given the COVID crisis, the members of the Supreme Court voted on this issue remotely.
If that’s not the most blatantly hypocritical act ever committed by the Court, it has to be the one most oblivious to irony.
All of this goes to show that it’s not just a novel virus that can take your breath away. Stay well, dear reader, and as sane as you can.